Single atom catalysts (SACs) are ideal model systems in catalysis research. Here we employ SACs to address the fundamental catalytic challenge of generating well-defined active metal centers to elucidate their interactions with coordinating atoms, which define their catalytic performance. We introduce a soft-landing molecular strategy for tailored SACs based on metal phthalocyanines (MPcs, M = Ni, Co, Fe) on graphene oxide (GO) layers to generate well-defined model targets for mechanistic studies. The formation of electronic channels through π-π conjugation with the graphene sheets enhances the MPc-GO performance in both oxygen evolution and reduction reactions (OER and ORR). Density functional theory (DFT) calculations unravel that the outstanding ORR activity of FePc-GO among the series is due to the high affinity of Fe atoms toward O2 species. Operando X-ray absorption spectroscopy and DFT studies demonstrate that the OER performance of the catalysts relates to thermodynamic or kinetic control at low- or high-potential ranges, respectively. We furthermore provide evidence that the participation of ligating N and C atoms around the metal centers provides a wider selection of active OER sites for both NiPc-GO and CoPc-GO. Our strategy promotes the understanding of coordination-activity relationships of high-performance SACs and their optimization for different processes through tailored combinations of metal centers and suitable ligand environments.